After the ‘Big Freeze’ during what seemed to be a never-ending winter season, now we have the ‘Big Squeeze’ on publicly funded legal services. Over the past 12 to 18 months I have attended many conferences where there had been rampant speculation, fear, anger and a clearly demonstrated general lack of confidence in the future of the sector ahead of the then pending Legal Aid cuts, the introduction of ABS, the possibility of BVT in Crime and so on.

Since then I have spoken with many a provider whose response has been to throw in the towel with publicly funded work. Likewise I’ve met many a lawyer who seems to have found themselves on the wrong side of redundancy. From the lawyers perspective the arguments have been well made and circulated. Such points as a loss of quality representation, the irreversible undermining of access to justice and the arrival of a two tier class based system have been doing the rounds in the press for what seems like an eternity. Now that we are post April 1st, with more cuts to come I wonder where this leaves the sector collectively and what part IT can play in service delivery for the protagonists that remain committed to the delivery of publicly funded advice.

Back in October last year I spoke at the Resolution Changing Practice for Changing Times Conference. Nearly all of the keynote speakers in one form or another conveyed the same message, Evolution not revolution, diversification, innovative product delivery, maximum use of IT to understand existing client trends, better use of CRM applications and processes to achieve up-sell and finally to increase output. At the core of everything within any modern practice is its Practice Management System (PMS) and Client database. I clearly recall asking the entire conference to stand and subsequently take a seat if they felt they were making full use of the existing PMS. At that point 99 per cent of delegates remained standing. In some ways I was astonished and in other ways perhaps not. I wonder what the response would be if I asked the same question now. Did the delegation go back to their respective practices and change the way they approach IT and their PMS? or by the next day was it back to the business ‘as usual’ culture. I clearly recall Simon Whites’ presentation and subsequent follow up in Resolutions Review publication, where he spoke about the need to educate fee earners on the importance of their own role in providing and managing accurate data within the PMS environment such that much more meaningful data mining exercises can be undertaken; with more understanding of the client journey and identification of the quality Clients etc. Though I try to look on the bright side and would like to think that everyone went away invigorated and ready to review IT strategy and its use, I suspect that for the majority this was not the case. Equally the natural reaction of many seems to be to contract and cut cost rather than seek out opportunity and invest. I find that frustrating.

Management teams still to my mind tend to associate IT with huge direct cost and capital outlay and rarely consider the longer term cost benefit from IT investment, be that in time or monetary terms. Cynics will say ‘you would say that, it’s good for business’. That statement is likely true, however it’s also good for our clients’ business and at the end of the day, our success as Legal IT specialists is entirely intertwined within the success of our current and future clients at large.

Is it too late to start now then?

In my opinion no, absolutely not, Legal IT does not hold all the answers, but a renewed effort in interaction with your providers, attending vendor user groups, maximising the usage of what you have and being forward thinking can only bring benefit to your business.

Richard Roebuck – Managing Director, Accesspoint Technologies